December 2013 Newsletter Is it December already? Yikes. Paris has chilled down, evening is falling so early that it's nearly pitch-black by 4:30pm, a

       
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December 2013 Newsletter

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Is it December already? Yikes. Paris has chilled down, evening is falling so early that it's nearly pitch-black by 4:30pm, and it's a little harder to get out of our warm beds in the morning. Thankfully I bought one of those heated mattress pads, and as soon as I turn that baby on, life gets a whole lot better. (The downside, however, is that I spend the entire day waiting for the moment when I can slide into bed.)

Steaming cups of le chocolat chaud are replacing tea and café crèmes at cafés tables. And somehow, it doesn't seem weird to eat sandwiches piled with cheese, béchamel, and potatoes, either. (Above.)

In November, I took a trip to Sicily, a place I've always wanted to visit but never got around to. It's not super easy getting there after the tourist season winds down, as many airlines reduce or cancel their flights until the spring, but we made it. And we had a great time, snacking on almond cookies, cannoli filled with fresh ricotta, Sicilian-style chocolate (think Mexican- or Spanish-style chocolate, a bit crumbly, and quite bitter), and dousing everything with lots of great olive oil.

cannoli

There's so much going on that I can barely stand it, so I'll keep it brief here and let you move on to the rest of this month's newsletter...while I ponder how soon I can get back into my warm bed...

-David

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Paris Restaurant Notes

Pasta from Comme a casa

Proof that good food always triumphs over anything else, Comme a Casa (7, rue de Pache, 11th) is a tiny little place just off the nondescript Place Leon Blum, in a decidedly unhip part of the 11th. Specializing in Italian food, and with only 5 or so tables, when I sat down with a friend for lunch, as we were deciding what to order, the waiter brought the man seated next to us a lovely plate of ravioli. We both watched as the customer brought his face right down into the plate, took a bit sniff – and when he came up, had a big grin on his face. Immediately I had decided that I was having pasta, too.

This Italian restaurant is really home-style cooking, and although pasta isn't all that difficult, so many restaurants get it wrong that I wonder what they could possibly be doing in the restaurant business. We started with a generous board of pecorino cheeses (€15), a cheese not well-represented in Paris. Different ages, and some flavored with truffles and another with hot peppers, each sliver was tastier than the one before it.

comme a casa

Finally out came the pasta, mine was stuffed with plenty of aromatic fresh sage and topped with olive oil and shavings of ricotta salata. It was wildly herbaceous and although the French make generous use of herbs in home cooking, you rarely find things with lots of fresh herbs served in restaurants. (I recently had a vegetable tart at Café Pinson, a new-ish vegetarian restaurant in the Marais, that was covered with dried rosemary – which was like eating pine needles. In fact, my throat is scratching, at the memory of it.) My friend had a lasagna made with Tuscan sausage and she wasn't thrilled with the crispy ends of the topping (that's the best part, girlfriend!) but we were both happy with the food (main courses at lunch run about €15.)

Service was friendly, and relaxed, although I'm not sure what it's like when it gets crowded. But I like this place and will probably stop back in for a pasta, a glass of wine, and definitely more of that cheese.

Maison F fries

On the other end of the scale, it's rarely successful when restaurants delve into "concepts", when simply doing good food is enough.

I was excited to go to the new Maison F (3, rue de Rougement, 9th), a restaurant that specialized in French fries. They had only been open a week, so are, of course, ironing out kinks. Gaffes in service were forgivable because the staff was so nice and incredibly friendly. But when you specialize in frites, you'd better deliver.

So it was disquieting to be presented with rectangular plates, with carefully arranged fries in a neat row. They didn't taste bad, but suffered from the non-crispy fry syndrome that is a problem in Paris. (When I asked a restaurant owner why he doesn't fry his frites until crisp, he said he used to, but the customers complained - who could complain about crisp fries?) When the head server came over to ask how we liked the meal, I found out the fries were cooked in olive oil (which doesn't get hot enough to give a crisp coating to fries, as most cooks can tell you) and I told him that fries were meant to be served in a heap, not eleven fries carefully laid out. He asked what I thought of the sauces, I said they needed to be more zippy; the tartar sauce needed more lemon or acid, and the others could have used more zing/oomph as well.

Here's what you do - you have a fryer, you fry the fries twice to get them perfect, then you heap 'em up in bowls, sprinkle with sea salt, and quickly bring them out while they're hot. Add some tasty dipping sauces on the side and, voilà, that's it. #success

Our steaks (€28) were thin and not very juicy. I felt a little bit bad telling the server (who may have been an owner or manager) what was wrong. But I always want places to succeed and I hope they do because they were such nice folks.

As I said on Twitter recently, if you want to be a chef, turn off Masterchef, and go in the kitchen and cook. Then taste, adjust, and taste (and taste and taste) again, until you get it right. It's not about square plates, scribbles of sauce, slate boards, or food served in tiny glasses or spoons - it's about how it tastes. Get that down, add friendly servers, and you've got a hit on your hands.

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December San Francisco Book Event

The Sweet Life in Paris (hi res)

Just a reminder that I will be at Omnivore Books from 3 to 4pm on Sunday, December 8, signing books in San Francisco!

They'll have copies of The Sweet Life in Paris, Ready for Dessert, The Perfect Scoop, and The Great Book of Chocolate.

Stop by and tick some of those holiday gifts off your list with signed books : )

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Paris at Christmas and New Year's Eve

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They often start almost a full year ahead: the requests from folks coming to Paris for the holidays, wondering what will be open for Christmas and New Year's. The reply is often, "I don't know" because most places close as the owners and workers take a well-deserved break for the holidays. (Hey, they gotta go on vacation, too.) So I often recommend that people wander and stop into corner cafés that are open, and not worry about heading to the hottest restaurants in town. And to rent an apartment and feast on French cheeses, charcuterie, roast chicken, and oysters and Sancerre, and enjoy the calm of Paris.

Still, I get that folks want to go out and enjoy a meal in a restaurant. Thankfully my friends at Paris By Mouth do too, and have put together their annual list of what's open at Christmas and New Year's Eve with specific suggestions for Christmas Day and Eve, as well as New Year's Eve. So if you're coming to Paris and wondering what's open, check them out.

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The Paris Gourmet

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One of the hard things about writing any sort of guidebook about anywhere is that places change frequently. (That's why I did a Paris Pastry App.) Fortunately there are enough classic addresses in Paris that remain popular, and keep their standards high. And prolific cookbook author Trish Deseine, who has lived in Paris for three decades and knows les bonnes adresses well, gives her favorites in The Paris Gourmet.

There are tips on which markets to go to (and how to shop when you get there), an assortment of restaurants and wine bars – from classic bistros to new hotspots, favorite bakeries and chocolate shops - and chapters concentrating on specialty places, like where to enjoy afternoon tea or shop for copper cookware. If you can't make it to Paris, there are a smattering of recipes to try at home.

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Chocolate Pain d'épices

chocolate pain d'epices

Adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris

Here's a recipe for the holidays that combines wintery spices with a dose of chocolate. Although not a true pain d'épices (you'll have to wait for my next book for that), no one will feel slighted with this version, which has the same seasonings, along with the rich flavor of dark chocolate. I like it served with poached pears.

7 ounces (200g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
7 tablespoons (100g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/4 cups (160g) flour
3 tablespoons (20g) unsweetened cocoa powder, Dutch-process or natural
1 teaspoon baking powder (preferably aluminum-free)
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground dried ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon whole anise seeds
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (80g) honey
2/3 cup (13og) sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Butter a 9-inch (23cm) round cake pan, line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper, and butter that as well. Dust the insides of the pan with a bit of flour or cocoa powder, and tap out any excess.
2. In a large, heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and 7 tablespoons of butter together, stirring until smooth. Let cool to room temperature.
3. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt. Add the anise seeds.
4. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, or with a handheld mixer, whip the eggs, yolks, honey, and sugar until thick and mousse-like, about 5 minutes on high speed.
5. Fold half of the whipped eggs into the chocolate mixture. Then fold in the remaining eggs.
6. Fold in the dry ingredients in three separate additions, using a spoon to sprinkle one-third of the dry ingredients over the batter and folding, continuing until the dry ingredients are just combined.
7. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the cake feels barely set in the center, but still moist.
8. Remove from oven, let cool for 15 minutes. Tap the cake out of the pan and cool completely on a cooling rack. Wrap the cake in plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours to let the flavors meld. The cake will keep for 3-4 days, and can be frozen, if well-wrapped.

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Holiday Recipes from My Site

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Here are a few more treats to sweeten up your holidays. Have a good one!

Panforte - A spicy cake with chocolate, candied fruit and nuts.
Pretzel and Nut Mix - Enjoy this jumble of candied nuts and salty pretzels, perfect to accompany holiday drinks.
Glazed Citron - What to do with these elusive fruits? Check this out to preserve the bounty.
Persimmon Bread - A terrific recipe to use those persimmons that are now in season.
Apple Jelly - A lovely gift for folks who love apples..and jelly on their morning toast. I've been eating this daily.
Parisian Hot Chocolate - Chilly? Warm yourself up with a steaming hot cup of chocolate, Parisian-style.
Fruitcake Bars - Easy-to-make and healthy! These fruitcake bars will disappear before ya know it! Trust me.

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